Joe Dumars presided over the Pistons rise to a championship, and their ensuing decline. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News)
The Pistons fired their coach Thursday, and this is news only by the flimsiest of definitions. The Pistons always fire their coach, more often than any team in the NBA, more often than almost any team in professional sports.
Lawrence Frank is gone and there's nowhere else to look now. It's squarely on Joe Dumars, as the spinning wheel turns.
Dumars rightly gets credit for a lot of the team's success the previous decade. And he rightly gets blame for this mess, as the Pistons stagger aimlessly with a muddied roster and sullied hopes.
Frank deserved to get fired, if only because he stepped into a bad situation and did nothing to improve it. He's a solid basketball mind, but name one thing the Pistons do better now than two years ago. They tuned out Frank and went 54-94 as attendance plummeted to new lows.
Dumars' job should be in jeopardy, too, although I don't think owner Tom Gores will fire him. Gores is new to this and likely thinking as many of us have — Dumars did so much right early, there has to be something left.
I've always maintained Dumars could turn this around, even after owner Bill Davidson passed away and the franchise entered a two-year limbo. I have doubts now. For the sake of basketball in this area, I hope Dumars proves us wrong, that his plan will work, that Andre Drummond is the centerpiece of a revival and $20 million in cap space will be wisely spent.
The problem is, the Pistons tilt-a-whirl has become such a joke, how do they land a good coach even if Dumars can identify one? There's reason to cling to faith in Dumars, who has made some shrewd moves the past two years. But here's the concern: I'm not sure Gores has total faith in him. And if the owner has lingering doubts about the direction, it won't work.
Gores didn't seem to trust Dumars two years ago when he reportedly trumped the choice of Mike Woodson and went for Frank. Woodson has done well with the Knicks, but I doubt he would've made a difference here.
Around the time Dumars was turning the Pistons into champions in 2004, he was marginalizing the coaching position, rendering it about as important as a school crossing guard. It's amazing that after Chuck Daly's stable leadership, Dumars is about to hire his seventh coach in 12 years.
Yes, there have been mitigating circumstances. Davidson wasn't fond of Rick Carlisle, then famously grew tired of Larry Brown during the back-to-back Finals runs. It was Davidson who declared Brown wasn't a good person, forcing Dumars to hire Flip Saunders.
For all Brown's foibles, that's where it turned on the Pistons. They reached more Eastern Conference finals, six in all, but the coach never again had control of that group — Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince.
Maybe that team was so uniquely strong-willed, without a superstar, no coach could have maintained it. But after that, Dumars made two horrendous hires — Michael Curry and John Kuester — and if he objected to the Frank choice, he didn't do it convincingly enough.
During the ownership instability, Karen Davidson essentially froze the franchise, and Dumars knew it was coming. It was a desperate time, a difficult time, but that doesn't excuse the horrible free-agent signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Dumars sometimes tries to please — and appease — too many people. When players revolted under Kuester two years ago, he was reluctant to take a public stand amid the transition and didn't want to alienate anyone. So Kuester twisted and players such as Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey became needlessly empowered, and the culture at the Palace was poisoned.
There's a reason the Pistons were last in the league in attendance this season, based on percentage of an arena's capacity. It's not simply the 29-53 record, and it's not because of the arena or its location. It's still an excellent venue, and near as I can tell, it's in the same spot where 259 consecutive games sold out.
It's because NBA fans in Detroit don't know who, or what, to believe in anymore. Davidson is gone, Dumars has retreated from the fray, the old champs were either shoved out (Billups) or moped their way out (Hamilton), and the new pieces were miscast.
Brandon Knight sometimes looks like a building block, then sometimes doesn't. Drummond and Greg Monroe are valuable assets, but the roster is pockmarked with disparate parts. Dumars has drafted well recently and smartly dealt Prince to open up cap space, and that probably buys him time.
OK, but there can be no ambiguity anymore. No matter who ends up sitting in the coach's ejector seat, it's on Dumars now.
Filling a void
A look at possible Pistons candidates:
Experience: Heat assistant (2008-present), Warriors assistant (2003-04), Fresno State assistant (2002-04), San Diego assistant (1998-2002)
Experience: Seattle coach (2000-05), Portland coach (2005-12)
Regular season: 478-452 (.514)
Experience: University of Indiana coach (2006-08, 43-15), Oklahoma coach (1994-2006, 279-109), Rockets interim coach (2011, 7-6)
Experience: Bulls coach (1979-82), Jazz coach (1988-2011)
Regular season: 1,221-803 (.603)
Playoffs: (98-104, two NBA Finals)